Bond builds world of opportunity

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The beauty of karate isn’t in crane-kicking your opponent in the face for glory.

It’s not even busting boards. Or the colour of your belt.

The crux of the confidence-building pursuit has always been the forging of an unforgettable bond between student and teacher.

Hollywood picked up on it long ago.

The original Karate Kid, Ralph Macchio, had Mr. Miyagi. The cinematic reboot, starring Will Smith’s kid Jaden, had Jackie Chan.

And on most nights in London, on the recently revamped second floor of a building on Commissioners Rd. West, you’ll find up-and-comer Jaylee Nowlan getting her next lesson from Sensei Kristen McCord.

“It’s awesome, because she knows a lot and is really experienced,” the 12-year-old from St. Thomas said. “She’s the best to learn from and, when you go (to a major competition), she’s been there before and knows exactly what to expect.”

It’s fitting the two-month-old London dojo, the latest instalment of a Toronto-area franchise, is called No Limits Martial Arts.

That’s exactly what the 27-year-old second degree black belt McCord, originally from Port Burwell, sees in the well-spoken youngster Nowlan, currently a respectable brown/black belt.

They have worked together for several years already, most recently at Martial Arts Canada and in private sessions, before cementing themselves in London.

“She’s been a natural talent from Day 1,” McCord said. “She’s flying through the lessons. She’s that skilled and talented. She’s ahead of where I was at that age. Jaylee picks it up quick, then we move on to the next thing.”

That next biggie is the International Congress of Martial Arts world championships, which is in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, this winter.

Nowlan earned her invite through Team NMAC (National Martial Arts Circuit), who watched her rack up points all year on the tournament circuit.

It will be her second straight trip (after Dublin, Ireland, last season) and she will compete in a packed schedule of six categories — traditional weapons, traditional kata, creative, musical, Chinese and sparring.

So the intensity of training will be ramped up accordingly.

“She was seeded first in everything, so we figured she would get the invite,” McCord said, “and now that she has, we’ll start kicking it up a notch. Even when I was competing, I was not training to the extent that she is now.”

McCord, who studied under MaryLynn Okkerse in Elgin County, eventually moved in with her sensei, out of convenience of training.

Rowlan, who also show jumps two ponies (Rio and Dixie), isn’t at that stage yet. But the commitment and dedication are a match.

“I know what I can offer her and what I can’t,” McCord said. “All the traditional stuff I do, and then I send her to Cambridge to do open (combat), and Toronto to train other things, too, with people with better experience. That’s probably the benefit of training here is I know so many people who have been it for so long and I will send them elsewhere if they need to be.

“You meet the right people and go from there.”

When McCord globe-trotted to compete, the opposition could sometimes be sparse, even at major events.

That’s not the way it is these days on the girls side.

You’re talking double digits at nearly every stop. Many pick up the pursuit for the same reason Rowlan did.

“I liked how disciplined and how structured it was,” she said with a grin. “It was different than anything else.”

Karate will be on trial in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. It’s inclusion would provide a major, yet complicated, boost.

“A karate worlds is basically a mini-Olympics in itself,” McCord said. “It takes a week to get through it and for Jaylee, we’ll focus on that because that’s the biggest goal there is for her. After 2020 comes along, if it sticks around, then we’ll shoot for that.”

Rowlan has started helping instruct some of the younger classes at No Limits. McCord returned to the sport after a four-year absence to finish school, missing that old spark.

Students like Rowlan have re-kindled it.

“I’m very lucky for her,” the teacher said of the student. “She comes to train and everyone’s watching her. She’s very competitive and a good tool for the other kids to learn from.”

And karate’s beautiful cycle of mentorship lives on. 

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